Some Baby Bibs Said to Contain Levels of Lead
Eric Lipton, The New York Times, Business Section
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WASHINGTON – Certain vinyl baby bibs sold at Toys "R" Us stores appear to be contaminated with lead, laboratory tests have shown, making the inexpensive bibs another example of a made-in-China product that may be a health hazard to children.
The vinyl bibs, which feature illustrations of baseball bats and soccer balls and Disney's Winnie the Pooh characters, are sold for less than $5 each under store brand labels, including Especially for Baby and Koala Baby.
Tests this summer, financed by the Center for Environmental Health of Oakland, Calif., found lead as high as three times the level allowed in paint in several styles of the bibs purchased from both Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us stores in California.
A separate test by a laboratory hired by The New York Times of the same Toys "R" Us bibs, purchased in Maryland, found a similar level of contamination.
"These bibs are exposing children to lead in an unnecessary way," said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health, a nonprofit agency that for the last decade has been testing consumer products for lead, in an effort to remove them from the market.
Kathleen Waugh, a Toys "R" Us spokeswoman, said that the company had hired an independent lab to do tests on the bibs as recently as May and they were found to be in compliance with safety standards for lead levels. Any test showing that individual bibs were potentially contaminated should not be interpreted as meaning the problem is widespread, she said, adding that the company's own tests are more stringent than federal standards. "Our uncompromising commitment to safety has been, and continues to be, our highest priority," she said in a written statement.
Officials from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates children's products, said that they would prefer that there be no elevated levels of lead in bibs.
But their own recent tests of baby bibs on the market in the United States found that the lead, when present, was at levels low enough that a child chewing on or rubbing the bib would not get an unhealthy dose.
As a result, the agency urges parents to discard vinyl bibs only if they are ripped or otherwise deteriorated.
"There is a potential risk of lead exposure from babies swallowing pieces of cracked vinyl on used bibs," the agency said in a statement, after being presented with the test results on the Toys "R" Us bibs.
But agency officials have not pushed for a recall of lead-contaminated bibs, including a brand sold earlier this year at Wal-Mart Stores, which the Center for Environmental Health also identified. Wal-Mart removed the bibs from its store shelves nationwide, but in Illinois, where 60,000 of the bibs had been sold, a strict lead law required their recall.
The bibs were imported for Toys "R" Us by Hamco Baby Products, the same company that made the bibs for Wal-Mart. The bibs will be retested, Ms. Waugh, the Toys "R" Us spokeswoman, said.
Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us are jointly controlled by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust. Hamco is a unit of Crown Crafts.
The agency's approach has drawn criticism from some children's advocates, and local and state health officials.
"All lead is bad lead," said Patrick MacRoy, director of the Chicago lead poisoning prevention program. "Why should we allow any lead to be in there?"
The lead tests done for the Center for Environmental Health, conducted by the National Food Laboratory in Dublin, Calif., found levels as high as 1,800 parts per million in the Toys "R" Us bibs – three times the amount allowed in lead paint.
The tests of the Toys "R" Us bibs conducted in July for The New York Times by the same lab found similar results.
A separate test by Bureau Veritas, a testing lab in Buffalo, found little lead in the clear plastic pocket of the bib, but said that the lead in the colorful part of the bib was at levels high enough that minute amounts could transfer to a baby's fingers.
A third lab, STAT Analysis of Chicago, found extremely low or not detectable levels both of total lead and of what is called "accessible" lead, or the lead a child could ingest by sucking or chewing on the bib.
Federal officials, when testing bibs, do three kinds of tests – one by checking the total amount of lead using solvents; another by rubbing the vinyl with a swab and testing the swab for lead; and a third by soaking the bib in a salty solution and testing the solution for lead.
These tests, on bibs collected from retailers nationwide this year, did at times find low levels of lead. But the C.P.S.C. concluded that even if infants had the bibs in their mouths all day, not enough lead would leach into their blood system to cause harm.
Based on these results, the agency concluded that the bibs did not present a hazard as long as they were not deteriorated.
But Mr. MacRoy, other health officials and children's advocates argue that the C.P.S.C. uses an antiquated standard for what level of lead in a child's blood stream represents a hazard. When combined with lead from other sources, including perhaps lead-based paint in an old house or lead-contaminated jewelry, the bibs could still result in poisoning or neurological damage in a child.
As a result, Ms. Cox of the California environmental group, among others, has urged parents to stop buying bibs that have even modest levels of lead.
Industry officials said that even if the lead was not at hazardous levels, they wanted to eliminate it. "We would like it not to be happening," said Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, a trade association.
Lead ends up in vinyl – otherwise known as polyvinyl chloride or PVC – from one of three primary sources. It is sometimes added as an inexpensive stabilizer; it can come from pigments used to add color; or it can come from recycled vinyl, which may have had lead in it from its earlier use, industry officials said.
Legislation proposed last year in Congress would ban more than trace levels of lead in any product intended for children under 6, similar to the Illinois law.
Given problems with lead found in vinyl, some companies are moving to replace it with other raw materials that they can be assured are lead-safe.
Pet Food Maker Loses Client
Menu Foods Income Fund, the Canadian owner of a company that recalled more than 60 million cans of pet food because of the possibility of contamination from a Chinese-supplied ingredient, said it lost a "significant" customer, and its stock fell to a record low.
Menu Foods said yesterday that the unidentified client had been its biggest customer, accounting for almost 11 percent of volume in 2006.
Some cats and dogs died after eating pet food contaminated with melamine, which was traced to Chinese wheat gluten.